Floor-to-ceiling screens formed a semicircle in front of a wheel-less silver car that sat in the middle of a dark oval room.
This is the interior of one of the most advanced driving simulators in the world. The only other comparable simulator is in Japan, said Adrienne McKee, a University of Iowa student researcher.
The National Advanced Driving Simulator at the UI Research Park in Coralville is home to some of the research programs that have been drawing corporate research funding for its vehicle-safety research.
On Aug. 1, the UI held a press conference to report on its external funding totals, as well as highlight the vehicle-research program.
“Despite a challenging economic climate, we not only maintained our external funding but saw an overall increase of more than $9 million,” UI President Sally Mason said. “This is a result of the collective work of many people, including the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development, the UI Foundation, investigators, our state and federal relations staff, and our legislative and congressional delegations.”
The total external funding for the UI for fiscal 2014 was $515.8 million, a $9.5 million increase over the year before, Mason said. The research funding which, makes up the majority of external funding, rose by $7.3 million to reach $431.4 million.
The amount of the funding was said to be “especially impressive” by Daniel Reed, the UI vice president for Research and Economic Development, when comparing the amount of research funding that UI has received to national numbers. Nationally, research funding has decreased.
Reed said between fiscal 2010 and fiscal 2013, federal research and development investments declined by 16.3 percent nationally.
“Federal funding for basic research is at a historic low,” Reed said.
The corporate funding for the University of Iowa from both foreign and domestic sources has increased by $10.2 million, with a five-year upward trend in corporate-sponsored research, Reed said.
Car manufacturers have been funding the vehicle research at UI to do their research, said Erin Abbas, a student researcher.
Besides replicating scenarios with cars, the driving simulator also gathers research on tractors and trucks, which are made possible with the mobility of the chamber and the ability switch vehicles out of the simulation room, said Susan Chrysler, the director of research for the simulator.
“Everything we’re working with, it seems like, it is going for a positive goal, to help with safer driving, which helps drivers, pedestrians, other drivers,” said Jacob Heiden, a student researcher.
“So all the new technologies and everything we’re working on, it’s for the betterment of society, hopefully.”